'True Blood' vampires right at home in Miss.

HBO show features scenes of Natchez's Longwood

By LaReeca Rucker

Russell Edgington, a red-haired antiques dealer with a thick Southern accent, is a notable figure in Mississippi politics.

It's uncertain whether he's crossed political paths with Gov. Haley Barbour during his reign as the vampire king of Mississippi, but it would make sense.

If you've lived 2,800 years on Earth, chances are you'd probably have connections with most movers and shakers, particularly those in your home state.

Of course, Edgington isn't the only vampire in town. Now that Jackson is one of the fictional settings for HBO's popular series, True Blood, a host of vampires and werewolves are roaming the capital city.

Created by Oscar winner Alan Ball, the show is based on The Southern Vampire Mystery (book) Series written by Tunica native Charlaine Harris.

This season, lead character Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress with telepathic powers, travels to Jackson to investigate the disappearance of her vampire boyfriend, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer).

Compton was kidnapped by werewolves and is now residing with Vampire King Edgington (Denis O'Hare) in a mansion that some Mississippians may recognize.

Longwood, an historic antebellum home in Natchez, is the fictional setting for the vampire king's illustrious digs. Exteriors of the mansion were shot on site and used in the show.

While shooting in Louisiana, production designer Suzuki Ingerslev decided to take a trip to Mississippi.

"My art director and I, Cat Smith, knew the next book series took place in Mississippi, so we wanted to see Mississippi before we built a set around it," she said. "We had always heard Natchez was beautiful."

Ingerslev toured the city's historic homes and discovered Longwood.

"We were drawn to the grandeur, the timeless elegance and the unusually octagonal architecture," she said. "As far as we could see, Longwood was the most unique antebellum home we'd ever seen.

"There's something about the land that surrounds Longwood that made it a little foreboding, but at the same time, it was absolutely lovely. It had to be the king's house.

"While the crew was shooting set stills, they all commented on how beautiful it was and what a magical experience it was seeing it all lit up at night."

Walking in Natchez felt like traveling back in history, Ingerslev said.

"The attention to detail was something that really amazed me," she said. "We took a lot of photos, and when we wanted to recreate the king's house, we wanted to give it a Southern flair and feeling that he had been around for centuries.

"We were drawn to a lot of the beautiful lighting fixtures and mural wall-coverings in the homes. That's something we don't see in California, so I definitely wanted to incorporate that.

"We did a lot of shopping here and in Louisiana, and we brought back a truckload of furnishings. We have this amazing armoire from the 1700s that will go in Bill's bedroom."

Ingerslev also took a daytrip to Jackson.

"We kind of hit the spots highlighted in the book," she said. "We just wanted a feel of what it looked like everywhere."

Harry Boschieri, a Longwood tour guide, said the historic home is the largest octagonal house in America and a great example of mid-19th century architecture.

The 30,000-square-foot structure is filled with furniture from the 1840s and 1850s.

It features a six-story octagonal rotunda and a byzantine-Moorish dome with a 24-foot fenial.

Described as an oriental villa, the home - also known as Nutt's Folly - has an interesting construction history that began in 1860 and ended the following year when the Civil War began.

"It was being built by a wealthy cotton planter from Natchez called Dr. Haller Nutt and his wife, Julia, by an architect from Philadelphia named Samuel Sloan," Boschieri said.

"Work progressed on the house for a year and a half until the war started. Then, the Philadelphia craftsmen left their tools and fled north."

Using local workers, the basement level living quarters was eventually completed.

Nutt died of pneumonia a year before the war ended, and his wife and children lived in the 10,000-square-foot basement of the unfinished home until her death in 1897.

Three generations of Nutts lived there until 1968. The Pilgrimage Garden Club now maintains it.

Boschieri said some tourists have commented on the True Blood connection.

Sally Durkin, a media liaison with the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the True Blood crew filmed several establishing shots of the mansion with stunt doubles during their 15-hour stint in Natchez.

The vampire king was filmed bringing Compton to his home.

"They filmed an upside down camera shot that flipped upright as the vampire king and his passenger rode on horseback," Durkin said. "There was no dialogue. From a cinematography point of view, they really made Longwood
look spectacular."

Durkin and others hope the show returns to Natchez to film. Ingerslev said you never know what the script will bring.

"I know my art director and I just want to go back and hang out because everyone was so nice," she said. "It was a really wonderful experience."